How to Prepare Pets for a Return to Work
For one reason or another, many of us are leaving the home more often these days. Our offices may be opening up, our kids may be headed back to school, or maybe a combination of both.
Either way, if you’ve got furry friends at home, it poses a problem — or at least serves as a source of separation anxiety.
It’s true: Many pets have become accustomed to having their humans home 24-7. So leaving them alone for eight to 10 hours a day (if you commute)? It can be quite stressful for both pet and owner. This separation usually affects dogs and dog owners more than it does with cats.
Fortunately, there are ways to ease the process and help your household cope when preparing pets for return to work. Are you a pet parent preparing to head back to the office or send the kids off to school? Here’s what you can do to help your pet adapt.
7 ways to help your pet adjust to you leaving the house
1. Transition to your new routine gradually.
As soon as you know a return to the office or school is on the agenda, start gradually moving toward your new routine — and take your pet along with you.
If you’ll be waking up two hours earlier than you are now, set that alarm 15 minutes earlier each week and help your household get acclimated in a short period. Be sure to let your pet out and start all your normal routines around this time as well. You want them to ease into the new routine just as you do.
You should also transition into your new nighttime routine similarly. Start pushing back your (and your furry friend’s) bedtime accordingly at least a few weeks before your new schedule’s set to kick in. You can also adjust their nightly walk, dinner, and potty schedule, too.
2. Designate a safe space for your pet.
Your pet needs a personal space they can retreat to when they want to calm down, feel safe, or just take a nap. This might be a crate, the corner of a room with a dog bed or cat tree, or an entire room in your house. Whatever it is, it should be somewhere set off from the hustle and bustle of the household (so not in the kitchen, foyer, or other high-traffic areas).
3. Keep them active.
Just as it does with humans or any animal, exercise helps with both the mental and physical health of our pets. It can reduce stress, increase their serotonin, and make it easier to sleep despite changing schedules and routines (and more sleep is good for everyone).
If you have a dog, make it a point to take them on one or two daily walks, or play catch with them in the yard each night. You can also offer a food puzzle toy or some other stimulating activity to keep them on their toes. Cats can get exercise through cat trees or towers, lasers, feathers, and other interactive toys.
4. Give them something to entertain them.
They also need entertainment when you’re away. This might mean putting on music or playing videos of birds on the TV, or it could just mean you pull out a special toy or treat each day you leave. Just remember: You’d probably be pretty bored with eight hours by yourself, so you can bet your pet will feel similarly. Give them the tools to entertain themselves and occupy their time — without turning to chewing on flooring or other destructive activities.
5. Take a few short practice runs.
Start practicing your pet’s alone time a few weeks before your new schedule starts. Leave them for an hour or two at first, and then gradually work up to two, three, or even four to five hours at a time. You want to get them used to operating solo — and to being away from you. Many pets get separation anxiety, so working up to extended time away is usually your best bet, particularly with dogs.
6. Make hellos and goodbyes simple.
Don’t make a big to-do when you leave — or when you come home. If you want the routine to feel normal, stress free, and like no big deal to your pet, you have to act that way. While it can be hard as pet owners to not pile on the pets, give them a big hug, or shed tears that first morning, keep the morning as consistent as possible. Feed or walk them, give them their toys, close their kennel, and head out — no huge amounts of emotion or enthusiasm necessary.
7. Watch for signs of problems.
Despite all the work you put in, there’s still a chance your pet has a hard time with all the changes. If you see signs of excessive anxiety or stress — like shaking, pacing, chewing on furniture, or barking more than normal, make sure you contact your vet as soon as possible. Some vets even specialize as a veterinary behaviorist and are experts in cat and dog behavior. They can help you troubleshoot and aid your furry friend.